Following our Veterans Pledge campaign in 2019, Boris Johnson promised to enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant into Law. The Armed Forces Bill is currently being considered by the UK Parliament and while we welcome the fact that it creates a new legal duty for public bodies to consider the Covenant, we firmly believe the legislation needs to go further.
We are therefore calling on the Government to seize this unique opportunity to strengthen the Armed Forces Bill to better support all those who serve and have served, and their families.
Joint statement from our CEO, Melanie Waters, Director General of Royal British Legion, Charles Byrne and Interim Chief Executive of Poppyscotland, Mark Collins:
"Since its introduction a decade ago, the Armed Forces Covenant has driven improved support and services for veterans, serving personnel and their families.
"We welcome the rare opportunity to strengthen the Covenant in law provided by the Armed Forces Bill, and the Royal British Legion, Poppyscotland and Help for Heroes are calling on it to go further if we are to fully deliver on the promise of the Covenant to all those who serve and have served our country.
"The Bill’s new legal protections to bolster the Covenant are insufficient and should cover all policy areas affecting the Armed Forces community; apply to national and devolved as well as local government; and include provision for enforcement, evaluation, and review.
"Evidence from Armed Forces charities, local and devolved governments, the Veterans Commissioners in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to the House of Commons’ Armed Forces Bill Committee, repeatedly highlighted the importance of enhancing the Bill along the lines we suggest.
"On behalf of the veterans, serving personnel and families we collectively support, the Royal British Legion, Poppyscotland and Help for Heroes urge MPs and Ministers to seize this opportunity to strengthen the Covenant in law and improve the Armed Forces Bill when it returns to the House of Commons.
"Now is the moment to demonstrate to the Armed Forces community that every level of government, in every area of policy, recognises their service and sacrifice and will support them to lead healthy, successful and fulfilling lives."
Today, we've also signed a joint letter alongside 11 other leading military charities calling on MPs to improve the Bill.
Whether through their contribution to tackling the pandemic, or the recent commemorations of D-Day and VE Day, the unparalleled contribution of those who have served in the Armed Forces continues to be shown.
The Armed Forces Covenant is the government’s and the nation’s promise that those men and women – and their families – should not be disadvantaged, and that special consideration may be appropriate, such as for the injured or bereaved.
The Armed Forces Bill currently before the UK Parliament makes welcome provision for a new legal duty on public bodies to give due regard to the Covenant. However, based on our collective experience working with the Armed Forces community, the Bill does not go far enough.
The new duty would only apply to local councils and some limited public bodies delivering housing, health and education. This neither reflects the reality of how the Covenant is delivered, nor the full range of issues affecting those in the Armed Forces community.
Even where services are provided locally, they are often based on national guidance. It is therefore a major gap for national government and the devolved administrations to be exempted from the duty that will be imposed on councils and others.
This is compounded by the omission of important topics including employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice, and immigration from the Bill’s scope.
Now that the Bill has returned to the Commons, we urge the UK Government and MPs to seize this rare opportunity to deliver on the promise of the Covenant. Such a move would attract widespread consensus and be a fitting recognition of the ongoing service and sacrifice of our brave men and women, and the families who support them.
Charles Byrne, Director General, the Royal British Legion.
Mark Collins, Interim Chief Executive, Poppyscotland.
General Sir John McColl KCB CBE DSO, Chairman of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities.
Chris Hughes, Chairman, Veterans Scotland.
Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Gregory, KBE, CB, DL, Chief Executive of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.
Melanie Waters, CEO, Help for Heroes.
Jeff Harrison, Interim CEO, Combat Stress.
Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive, Forces in Mind Trust.
Collette Musgrave, Chief Executive, Army Families Federation.
Maria Lyle, Director, RAF Families Federation.
Anna Wright, Chief Executive Officer, Naval Families Federation.
Nick Bunting OBE, Secretary General and Group CEO, Royal Air Forces Association.